Deadly EF3 tornado strikes El Reno, Oklahoma, for the 2nd time in 6 years
By Renee Duff, AccuWeather meteorologist
May 27, 2019, 2:41:04 PM EDT
Cleanup and recovery efforts continued on Memorial Day in El Reno, Oklahoma, after a destructive tornado tore through the town late Saturday night.
Officials confirmed at least two fatalities and nearly 20 injuries in the aftermath of the twister.
Storm surveyors from the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma, have determined that the tornado was EF3 strength and only on the ground for 4 minutes for a span of 2.2 miles. The tornado was 75 yards at its widest point.
In that short amount of time, extensive damage was reported at a hotel, the American Budget Value Inn, and a nearby mobile home park near the Highway 81 and Interstate 40 interchange, according to KOCO-TV.
(Photo/Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt)
(Photo/Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt)
"It's been a serious, serious event here," El Reno Mayor Matt White said during a press conference early Sunday morning. "We have all hands on deck."
White described the scene at the mobile home park as "horrific." He also said that most of the American Budget Value Inn's second story was gone.
In a later press conference, White stated that all of the people from the hotel have been accounted for.
Residents of the trailer home park were being allowed to return to the property on Monday to obtain essential items such as medicines or other valuables.
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The mayor reported that 29 people were transported to the hospital for minor to critical injures with many others displaced.
"People are still in surgery as we speak [on Sunday morning]," White said. "Several hundred people have been affected."
"It's a tragic scene out there," White said. "People have absolutely lost everything."
The mayor urged people to utilize the city’s social media pages and non-emergency lines to get information so that 911 lines would not be tied up shortly after the tornado struck.
“Our community is very resilient to this. We ask you to pray for us, pray for the first responders...the main thing is we have to stick together. I know people want to help. We want your help."
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt visited the scene on Monday. While surveying the damage, Stitt received a call from President Trump who pledged federal assistance to the affected communities.
"Our prayers are with those who lost loved ones and those who remain in the hospital recovering," Stitt said.
Despite the damage, some residents in the community still gathered for Memorial Day ceremonies to honor fallen veterans.
Resident Sidonna Jeans told KFOR her story of dramatic survival.
“I had just turned the TV off, seems like, and laid back down and closed my eyes and then all of a sudden, I was bouncing around,” Jones said. “All I said was whoa because I didn’t want to fall off the bed,” Jeans said.
One report on Twitter stated that debris was falling from the sky along a stretch of Interstate 40 near El Reno.
Both sides of Highway 81 were closed at I-40 mile marker 125 due to debris and downed power lines, according to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
The El Reno Veterans of Foreign Wars has opened their doors for citizens needing shelter.
A tornado warning was issued for the city at 10:26 p.m. CDT, with the National Weather Service (NWS) stating that a thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located near El Reno. At 10:31 p.m. CDT, the NWS said that a radar-indicated tornado was located over the city.
"This is an unfortunate example of just how quickly these types of storms can develop...Please remain weather aware and be prepared," Union City Police Department Chief Richard Stephens wrote on Facebook.
Saturday night's tornado struck El Reno nearly six years to the day that a violent EF3 tornado tore a path of destruction through the city.
On May 31, 2013, El Reno was struck by the widest tornado on record. The tornado killed eight people and injured 151 others along its 16.2-mile path.
The same thunderstorm that blasted El Reno late Saturday swept into the Oklahoma City metro area, prompting a tornado warning for the downtown area. A possible tornado caused damage at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in northwest portions of the city, according to News 9. Downed trees and power lines were also reported and a local restaurant suffered extensive roof damage, according to KFOR-TV.
Another tornado warning was issued for Broken Arrow, Jenks and Tulsa, Oklahoma, as the line of thunderstorms continued eastward. The NWS stated that this thunderstorm had a confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado and called it a "particularly dangerous situation." Tree damage was reported near Jenks.
A tornado was also spotted near Oktaha, Oklahoma, early Sunday morning.
The NWS survey team said it found EF0 tornado damage near Broken Arrow High School along with several damaged roofs in the area. EF1 tornado damage was found near the town of Sapulpa, where the survey team found two tornado paths.
The Sapulpa Police Department said on Facebook Sunday that they had no reports of fatalities and only a few reports of minor injuries.
As communities begin cleaning up in the wake of the tornadoes, more rounds of severe weather and flooding downpours are expected to slam the Plains through Tuesday.
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